Wouldn’t it be great if you had a crystal ball that told you “do exactly this” and your business will grow?
Imagine: no more guessing, no uncertainty or risk.
Just a nice, predictable growth curve you can ride all the way to the bank.
Well, until someone invents one of those, the next best thing is the strategy I’m about to share with you here…
Looking back at 2014, I can say that we left a good chunk of money on the table.
I realized this after studying the sales funnels of some of our top clients who are million-dollar-plus companies–thanks in part to services we provided them.
The problem was we waited too long to begin refining our own funnel, using all the latest best practices that helped us get results for clients.
But, how does this relate to you and your business?
And what is this “crystal ball” strategy you’re probably neglecting right now?
Never stop asking yourself this question…
At the beginning of 2014, we began an aggressive inbound marketing strategy.
We’d started by publishing indepth, resource articles typically 2,400 words and longer. This attracted both links and traffic.
(Our longest was a 12,000+ word article documenting all the best email list building strategies, still the more comprehensive resource of it’s kind on the web today)
The result? By consistently doing this, our traffic grew and grew. Today we’re hovering just under 8,000 visits per month.
But, traffic isn’t worth much unless you’re finding win-win ways to connect that traffic to sales.
This is when I began focusing on the middle stage of our sales funnel: engagement.
With engagement, you’re looking to move some percentage of your traffic deeper into your funnel. There are a few ways this happens:
- Click-thru from you blog pages to your homepage and key subpages of your website
- Signing up for your email list
- Or making a small initial purchase (< $50)
I choose to focus on getting more sign-ups for our email list. To accomplish this, I practiced the “Every Page Rule,” working with our team to implement small tweaks that progressively lead to a higher and higher conversion rate.
We eventually reached a 7% conversion rate.
Great. Now what?
This is where we made a mis-step. Pay close attention to this point.
Once you optimize a step in your funnel — whether it be to generate more traffic, engagement, or sales — it’s important to never stop asking that question.
Here’s why it’s so important the exact process you want to follow… so you can grow your business and stop guessing.
The Bottle-Neck Sales Funnel Strategy
Using this strategy is kind of like having that almighty “crystal ball” I referred to above.
That’s because you’ll always know exactly where your focus and energy needs to go.
Using this strategy framework, you’ll never need to guess again about what online marketing tactics you should be implementing next.
Before I learned this simple yet highly effective strategy, I was constantly focused on and getting distracted by the wrong marketing priorities.
I was looking at step five when I was still on step two.
Here’s the step-based sales funnel strategy you need to follow in order to get compounding growth results in your business today:
- First, make sure your funnel is setup so you can measure progress as you go. Having a general estimate of the numbers is good enough, but longer term it’s essential to have exact metrics
- Second, ask yourself that question, “Where is the biggest leak in my funnel?” In other words, where is the bottle-neck occurring? Look at the data (or estimate) and see how much traffic you have coming into the top of the funnel, how much of that traffic is converting in the second stage (engagement), and then how much of that is converting into “formal” leads (i.e. more than someone simply inputting their email address) and sales. For example, if you have 1000 visits, 25 conversions, and 5 sales or formal leads — where’s the biggest leak? Think for a moment… The biggest leak is clearly between stage 1 and stage 2 (traffic to conversions). That’s where your focus should go.
- Third, brainstorm–then take action. Brainstorm several ways you can cause the numbers to change and “smooth out.” In the above example, how could you drive more people on to your email list or deeper into your funnel? If you’re not sure, go and read an article on the topic to help you generate ideas. Like this one. Then, pick the best strategy and implement it. Pick only one strategy to test at a time. Do not overwhelm yourself. If you try to implement multiple strategies at once, you’ll only increase your likelihood of failure in the short and long term. For instance, if you implement multiple strategies in the same stage of your funnel the result is a net negative, this will only mask the fact that some changes worked and some didn’t. Note: as a general rule of “business physics” the significant the change you implement, the more significant the result. The result can be positive or negative, but it will be greater. If you’re a young company with little traffic, it’s more important to be making large or “macro” changes that will have a significant impact on the result of your funnel. Even at the risk of it being negative, you’ll learn something from the test.
- Fourth, wait and measure. Regardless of where you’re at, whether you’re a young company or an established one with lots of traffic, you generally don’t have to wait longer than 2-4 weeks to know with reasonable certainty if the test worked. If it did, keep the change in place. If not, remove what you implemented and test something new.
How to Break Your Funnel Into Steps
Knowing the exact steps in your sales funnel is critical to your understanding of how to grow.
This applies to step 1 in the step-based funnel strategy listed above.
The following three-part model applies universally to every business that exists today. Don’t get me wrong, if you wanted you break down your funnel into additional micro-steps you can. In fact, you can break down almost any funnel into a nearly infinite number of steps.
But they all follow this basic flow.
- Top – Demand Generation
- Middle – Engagement & Lead Generation
- Bottom – Lead Qualification & Sales
With demand generation at the top, this is where people searching on the web find you on Google or social media and click through to your site, often ending up on your blog.
In the middle of your funnel is where visitors take action to learn more about your services and what you can offer them beyond some basic educational information. This can mean a few things:
- Clicking through from blog to homepage
- Clicking through from homepage to about or services page
- Making a small purchase (< $50)
- Joining your email newsletter list
At the bottom of your funnel is where prospects are ready to make a purchase decision now or at they will be at some point in the near future. What’s happening here is:
- Follow-up over the phone or in person
- Automated email-based follow-up
- Qualification (i.e. do they meet the criteria of a buyer?)
- And ultimately, a sale.
If you’re interested, I talk in much more detail and give actionable tips of this third stage in our “Fix Your Funnel” Webinar.
Applying all this to your website sales funnel
Let’s assume that this is the breakdown of what you are looking at right now:
- Top: 1000 visitors
- Middle: 30 email subscribers / passive leads
- Bottom: 5 converted to active leads
If this represents your funnel, where’s the biggest leak?
Traffic is coming in, but clearly it’s leaking the most between the top and the middle step, where 97% of prospects drop out.
Compare that to the middle-to-bottom step where the the dropout rate is significantly less at 83%.
So now what? — you might say.
The next step is to brainstorm ways you can “smooth out” that bottle-neck. Here are a few examples you might write down:
- Create more free incentives to join your email list.
- Remove current offers that are converting lower than the net average conversion rate.
- Scale the highest converting offer(s) “across” your funnel webpages (see my earlier post on the “Pop-n-spread” technique)
- Experiment with retargeting ads, or other similar tactics
Now, your instinct might be to say: let’s implement ALL of them!
WRONG. Go back and read step 3 above if you’re not sure why.
As far as which ideas should get priority, again, I always recommend focusing on the big, MACRO changes first. This way, if you pick a winner, the growth benefits will be substantially more than if you pick a smaller change, that yielded a smaller net increase in the conversion rate.
This is key point here so I want to emphasize it in detail. It applies not just to this situation, but to all marketing decisions you might have to make in the course of building your business:
- Marco changes often represent no additional work in comparison to micro changes (like when implementing a pop-up or something similar).
- Though the risk of hurting your conversion rate is higher with macro changes, the potential rewards outweigh that risk.
- Especially while your company is still relatively small, the question of risk here is mute.
That being said, your best best would be to go for this one: Scale the highest converting offer “across” your funnel webpages
For example, in the beginning of 2014 when AutoGrow was seeing around 2,000 visits a month, I implemented simple macro changes, like more links pointing to our homepage from our blog pages.
In as little as 2 weeks, I noticed an improvement in our pageviews, click-thru rate and some indication this was working from a lead generation rate as well.
“Sounds Good — But, when should I focus on growing traffic at the TOP of the funnel?”
It’s easy to tell when to focus on the middle of bottom stages.
In that case you simply compare the two conversion rates from one into the next.
With traffic as the top phase in your funnel, there’s no step before it–or is there?
Traffic comes from a four possible sources on the web:
- Social media
- Search engines
- Direct (i.e. someone types in the name of your site)
- Other websites sending referral traffic to you
Each of these should be seen as the “hidden” step or phase leading into the top of your funnel.
It’s hidden purposefully from our three part model because you do not own or control these traffic sources–whereas in the Demand Generation, Engagement, and Follow-up / Sales phases — you have significant control and influence to affect the result.
But how do calculate the conversion ratio from these traffic sources to determine if there’s a bottleneck?
There’s less “science” in answering this compared to the other sales funnel phases, but to get a general idea you can do a couple of things.
First, if you don’t already have your site registered with Google Webmaster Tools. Go do that because this will show you how many impressions and clicks your site is getting in Google’s search results.
For your social media channels, simple add up the total number of followers or fans you have on each channel and then compare that number to the total number of visitors your Analytics tells you your site receives from social media.
In other words, this:
along with Twitter, etc. (assume a total of ~5,000)
(From Google Analytics)
Once you have this data for the top phase of your funnel, how do you know when the numbers are trying to tell you: focus on traffic(!)?
Well with the above data
- We can see that it’s a about 4.5% (10k / 214k) of search impressions on Google convert to clicks, and…
- About 6% on social media fans to visitors (316 / 5,000)
- We’ll assume the rate of traffic to engagement / passive leads is 5%
- And passive leads to active leads is 10% at the bottom of the funnel
If your number look like this, it would make the most sense to focus on bringing up that 4.5% traffic generation metric for your search engine content first, and then focus on the middle phase after that. You could do this by writing better content to match with what people are searching for or by editing on-site SEO factors for the content you have.
- We live in an age of marketing where there seem to be too many options and not enough time to implement
- If you want peace of mind or you’re uncertain of what to do next to grow, start by establishing tracking for each phase of your sales funnel: top, middle and bottom
- Every business has these phases, and so does your’s.
- After you have your metrics, look at the data and ask: “where’s the biggest leak?”
- Test out one idea at a time to fix it, and measure the results for each. Do not test multiple changes for a single phase of your funnel at once.
- Repeat the process monthly, and then weekly as you grow and are able to text new changes and the results they provide faster.
What’s an uncommon idea you’ve successfully tested in the middle or bottom phases of your sales funnel? Leave a comment below and let me know.
As always, thanks for reading and if you received value from this post please share it for the benefit of others on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.
Image credit: http://ebookindiecovers.com/2012/12/23/mark-coker-looks-into-his-crystal-ball-predictions-for-the-ebook-market-2013/ http://www.mintigo.com/blog/you-have-the-leads-now-what-the-why-what-and-how-of-lead-nurturing/